Over winter break, the students of CUNY Hunter and Queens College Hillels’ embarked on a journey to Israel, where they formed their own perspectives on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, while also exploring different ones. Entitled ‘The Perspectives Trip,’ both branches of Hillel partnered up to deliver an interfaith-curriculum to those interested.
Although Israel is a primarily Jewish country, those on the trip came from a large variety of different ethnicities and religions. Whether it was walking through Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Museum, meeting with the Deputy Mayor of Bethlehem, or learning at the Aida Refugee Camp, students engaged with the country’s rich culture and religion, as well as its different neighbors.
Directing the trip was QC’s very own Jenna Citron, who is the current Executive Director of the Hillel on campus. Taking on the role of conversation facilitator and educator, Citron took a hands on approach by engaging with the students as they spoke to all kinds of people, from Palestinian leaders to Jewish voices. “Interfaith work has always been an important piece of my portfolio as a Hillel professional,” she explained. “For the past 10 years I have dreamed of making this kind of experience a reality, and now it is.”
One of the students Sagar Sah, history major and theater minor, attends Queens College. “[Before] the trip. I was fortunate to meet a Holocaust survivor named Toby Levy at [the] Holocuast [Museum] in Lower Manhattan. I asked [her], ‘Toby, I am going to visit Israel next month – do you have any advice you would recommend?’ Toby’s response was happy and almost in tears, ‘You’re going to Israel?! Enjoy, take many photos, you’re going in a group? – You will enjoy the experience! You will have the time of your life!’ Never in my life, I never knew asking a Holocaust survivor would feel so happy about visiting Israel would change her life. What was going to hold me back? Nothing at all.”
Upon looking back at the trip, Citron wanted to leave readers with the lasting message that there’s still further work to be done. As she put it, “We all still have a lot of work to do. We need each other. We need to be in community with each other. We need to stand up for each other when things are bad and when they are good. We need to understand our neighbors and learn to actively listen with empathy in mind. That’s why this experience is not just the trip alone. It comes along with an understanding that this group of people is now a community working toward a common goal.”
QC Hillel’s mission is to enrich the lives of Jewish students so that they can enrich the Jewish people and the world. Additionally, QC Hillel has decided to deepen this work by offering a new three-semester long Community Outreach Cohort – an internship for QC students interested in learning how to do deep interfaith work. There are still a few spots left. If you’re interested please reach out to Rav Sara Zacharia at firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications will open in early September, and the trip leaves early Jan. 2021.